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Memphis Renaissance & Harlem

In case of rain, the performance will be moved to the Cannon Center.  Announcements of a change in performance location or time will be posted to our website, Facebook, Twitter and Information Line at 272-2722.  

Program begins at 6:30pm & the performance will begin at 7:30pm

Mei-Ann’s Circle of Friends presents a groundbreaking performance featuring the Memphis Symphony Orchestra with New Ballet Ensemble, curated and conducted by Maestra Mei-Ann Chen and choreographed by Katie Smythe.

Black Swan by Bright Sheng 

A Chinese-American composer, conductor and pianist taught by Leonard Bernstein will open the concert.

Three Dream Portraits by Margaret Bonds

One of the first African-American composers and performers in the USA and Langston Hughes, renowned African-American poet who was enormously influential during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. Together their artforms stressed a racial consciousness and culture devoid of hate. The Hughes poetry will be read and sung by Larry Albert, a bass-baritone operatic singer and Met audition winner.

Dances in the Canebreaks by Florence Price

The FIRST African-American woman in the USA to have been played by a major orchestra and considered the FIRST African- American woman to have been recognized as a symphonic composer

MSO Big Band

As the prelude to the finale, Harlem, the orchestra’s brass section will lead audience in swing music that is period pieces of the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem by Duke Ellington

The spectacular finale will be the nationally acclaimed ballet HARLEM, set to the score of Duke Ellington’s music, incorporating a new genre called Memphis Jookin’. New Ballet Ensemble is known as an exponent of Jookin’, whose vocabulary is based in a Memphis Street style originally called, “The Memphis Walk”. HARLEM was originally performed by New Ballet Ensemble at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in May, 2014 with the National Symphony Orchestra. During the performance nine dancers “shimmied, levitated and jolted their way through eye-popping solos and ensemble work”. Robert Battey of The Washington Post wrote, “The single dance number that ended the evening was simply dazzling, eliciting an audience response that dwarfed all that had gone before.” HARLEM was a stunning, rousing performance which brought the house down and proved the evening’s highest point.

MEMPHIS RENAISSANCE is dedicated to the memory of Martha Ellen Maxwell, who remains an icon in the performing arts of Memphis. Ms. Maxwell served from 1993-2003 as President of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and was a founding board member of New Ballet Ensemble and the Levitt Shell. MEMPHIS RENAISSANCE represents her passion for collaboration in the arts and her love for bringing all people together through the power of music, voice and dance. It is a fitting tribute.

We are profoundly grateful to our sponsors.

Sponsored by

Regional One Health
Ham Smythe, III
Rebecca Webb Wilson


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Community Trust Friends of Martha Ellen Maxwell
Memphis Light, Gas & Water
Wilson Family Foundation 

Earlier Event: September 18
Opera Memphis
Later Event: September 20
Royal Southern Brotherhood